Smart Growth: Why You May Want Apartments in Your Neighborhood

During a recent visit, my friend Deb felt very disgruntled with the mayor of her city. “He said my town’s new proposed development is ‘Smart Growth’, but it is really just a way to add more apartments in our community.”  No one likes to be deceived, but was Deb misled by her mayor?

Deb, like so many people, is uncomfortable with apartments being located too close to her neighborhood filled with traditional, single-family homes. She fears declining property values, increased traffic, and the lack of privacy.

In reality, communities that offer more housing options are most likely to thrive in today’s economy and to be desirable to current and potential residents (AARP). It can be especially beneficial to older persons who want to remain in their community. Both older persons and younger persons are seeking housing that is affordable and smaller in size.

Why is “Smart Growth” Smart?

Smart Growth America defines smart growth as “an approach to development that encourages a mix of building types and uses, diverse housing and transportation options, development within existing neighborhoods, and community engagement”. Adding more apartments to a community that lacks an adequate supply qualifies as “Smart Growth”.

Smart Growth can provide lifelong living in communities. A person’s housing needs change over the course of a lifetime. A home ideal for raising kids may be ill-suited and cost-prohibitive for living independently as we age or for persons just getting started on their own.

Housing that is smaller and closer to services, such as grocery stores and medical facilities, may be especially important for older persons who no longer drive and want to remain independent. Most older people want to stay in or near the neighborhoods that they have always lived to maintain established connections with friends and services.

The idea of Smart Growth might also be called Livable Communities, Lifelong Communities, New Urbanism, or Age-Friendly Cities. All these movements promote the common principles found in the smart growth definition. One of these principles involves including diverse housing options that support persons of all ages, abilities, and incomes in their quest for a high quality of life.

There are benefits to being a “YIMBY” (yes, in my backyard) rather than a “NIMBY” (not in my backyard); one day, you may want to downsize to an apartment in your community or have an older or younger relative locate nearby.

Atlanta Region’s Shortage of Suitable Housing For Older Persons

Understanding the benefits of increased housing options at a variety size and price points makes it hard not to support more apartments in neighborhoods.

The Atlanta area, like most of the nation, has a shortage in both supply and variety of housing options. Many of our communities have an abundance of single family homes on larger lots and expensive retirement communities that only the affluent can afford.

Housing is considered affordable if a person pays no more than 30 percent of their income on rent or mortgage. More than one in four (26.2%) of metro Atlanta homeowners age 65 and older pay more than this standard on housing costs. The situation is even worse for older renters in the region, with 57% spending more than the affordable amount.

Apartments are only one option for downsizing but, for many people, they are a convenient and cost-effective one. Townhouses, cottages, and secondary units on properties can also offer smaller home options.

The Atlanta Regional Commission’s Housing Briefs can help you learn more about Metro Atlanta’s Senior Housing Shortage and recommended solutions to increase housing options. These Briefs can be used to inform both yourself and decision makers in your community.


If you’re looking for housing to better suit your changing needs, Empowerline is here to help at (404) 463-3333.

Mary Blumberg

Mary leads the Strategic Planning and Development Team within the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Aging and Independence Service Group. She is especially energized by helping cities and neighborhoods learn how to become age friendly and changing hearts and minds about many of our stereotypes about aging and older persons. Mary lives in Atlanta with her husband Marc and enjoys yoga, traveling, and SEC football.